The best way to write …

… is it the explorer or the cartographer way?

In an interview I did with my wonderful publishers, Quercus, which can be found below, I mention the word ‘organic’ in relation to my own writing. And I must confess that I may come across as slightly evangelical in the interview about the merits of explorer or organic writing as opposed to cartographer or planned writing.

However, that’s not to say I don’t plan. I do. I have a story hook and a cast of characters who each have their own biographies; I have settings, a timeline and an outline narrative arc which I plot across my chapter list. However, as I get to each chapter I scope out what I see happening and, because I do this in ‘real-time’ not in advance, I believe there is room both for the characters to dictate what they should do and say, AND for those Eureka! moments where, scanning back over what’s happened so far and picking up on the hints and allusions I’ve put in without being fully conscious of their whys and wherefores, all becomes crystal clear, my plot planets align, relationships coalesce or fragment and the book becomes even more alive to me.

This is what I call writing in partnership with my characters. I’m no puppet master, rather we’re like dancers on the same stage putting on a performance without any of us really knowing how the precise ending will play out: I don’t let myself in on the secret of the ending too soon, so that we can all find it out together and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE doing it this way! This is what keeps me going, keeps my energy levels up, keeps me committed to my story and the people in it.

In the interview I also put forward an opinion that it is better to wait for ideas to come, rather than sit down with a piece of paper with IDEAS written across the top in large black letters. I know I am lucky in that I have the time and space to allow the ideas to come to me. I do work to deadlines but, because I am able to write full-time now, these deadlines are mostly doable (only my MA Dissertation is looming menacingly in the distance, the novels and poems are behaving themselves impeccably at present!).

And yes, as also mentioned in the clip, I do dream my plots. In one recent dream my agent and I were discussing what should happen in the book I’m currently writing. I won’t say what it is, suffice to say it’s a BIG THING and, the very next day, when we were discussing my ideas for the novel, she said, ‘You know what’s got to happen, don’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do,’ and it was exactly what we’d discussed in my dream the night before. I still don’t know exactly how and why this BIG THING will happen and what the fall-out from it will be, but spooky, eh?!

However, this is just me. I know of hugely wonderful and successful authors who approach their writing processes completely differently. They plan to the nth degree and their books are seamless masterpieces. I’m just saying that I have discovered over time (and the many novels that reside unread and unloved under my desk will testify to this) that I seem to work better doing it my way!

So, in conclusion, of course there is no universally accepted best way; it’s more a question of finding out which is the best way for you.



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